Thursday Links

1. Obama did an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit, which in theory is a pretty big deal, illustrating the way modern technology allows a sitting president to cut through layers of separation and communicate directly with citizens all over the country (We have come a long way from the days when most people could only read about presidents in the newspaper). Perhaps predictably, though, Obama mostly answered easy questions or stuck to vague talking points about things like the Internet and NASA, ignoring harder questions about things like the TSA or lobbyists or his betrayal on medical marijuana or the American citizen killed in a drone strike.

2. How the Federal Reserve Accelerates the Robopocalypse. The Federal Reserve has been keeping interest rates ridiculously low for an unprecedented length of time. It’s supposed to help the economy, but I sometimes wonder what unintended consequences this might have down the line. Victor Wong argues that this is actually hurting employment by encouraging businesses to invest in robot labor. I’m not completely convinced, but it sounds plausible. I’m generally optimistic that labor freed by technology will always find something better to do, but I read an argument recently (h/t @interfluidity) that “this time it’s different” because we’re finally starting to run out of options for people on the lower half of the IQ spectrum (read the skeptical comments as well).

Continue reading Thursday Links

Thursday Links

Here are some random things to read before the Supreme Court announces Obamacare and everyone stops caring about anything else for awhile…

1. Drones Are Awesome? I’ve been generally pessimistic about the coming drone boom, due to concerns about government abuse and invasion of privacy, but this long post in Wired has converted me to being excited about the technology. Chris Anderson details the recent hobbyist history of the private flying machines, how the technology has improved, where it stands now, and where it might go next.

2. We’re Not Running Out Of Oil. A lot of people are talking about a new report called “Oil: The Next Revolution,” an 84-page PDF in which Leonardo Maugeri argues that in the last few years the world has come upon an abundance of oil that is likely to persist for a long time, although many risks remain. Maugeri is described as an oil executive, but the report is full of detailed analysis and reasonable conclusions. Here is some discussion from a NYTimes blog.

I remain optimistic that the market will buy us time to replace old energy sources, and that the market will ultimately provide those replacements, subsidies or no subsidies. Although as it looks like we’re going to have plenty of the stuff to burn for the next several decades, I sure hope the skeptics are right about climate change.

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Wednesday Links

1. Even as states like Connecticut are abolishing the death penalty, we learn that another man was wrongfully executed in Texas many years ago. I’ve never taken a confident stance on the death penalty either way, but I think I’m ready to officially and confidently oppose it, simply because the government makes too many mistakes and “death is the ultimate oops cost“. Follow @MikeRiggs to learn more about government mistakes, especially pertaining to violence (warning: may make you angry).

2. NPR has 50 years of government spending in one graph. It doesn’t show the growth in government spending, and they try to say with a straight face that a change of 18% to 24% of GDP is “roughly” the same, but it is very interesting to see the proportions. I didn’t know, or had forgotten, how much defense has dropped as a percentage of spending since the Cold War – even though that’s largely just because other things like Medicare and Medicaid have grown so much. Also interesting that the share of interest is smaller than it was 20 years ago and about the same as it was 50 years ago, due to interest rates dropping so much. I wonder how long they will stay low, and what will happen if interest rates rise along with the projected growths in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid…

3. The Economist argues that the election encourages America to feel worse about itself than it needs to: “People tend to think in black and white. America is either in decline or it is ordained to be for ever the world’s greatest nation. Government is either paralysed or it is running amok, stifling liberty and enterprise and snuffing out the American dream.”

4. If you want to get down and dirty with a nerdy analysis of Mitt Romney’s positions based primarily on his many Republican debate performances, check out Expected Optimism’s detailed posts (see the first paragraph for links to other categories).

5. A Russian satellite has taken the most detailed single picture of Earth yet with this 121-megapixel shot. I’ve always been amazed at how completely uninhabited the Earth looks from daytime at these distances. Contrast this with a night shot, and I’m awed both by how much mankind is affecting this planet, and how little.

6. Random funny Internet pic of the day. (Future of Ron Paul’s Campaign edition)

Friday Links

1. Supreme Court rules 5-4 to allow strip searches for any arrest. I haven’t seen much commentary on this, but it sounds pretty bad to me. The rationale is that you might need to strip someone before admitting them to jail to make sure they don’t have anything dangerous on them. But the whole case came before the Supreme Court because a guy was strip-searched after being mistakenly arrested. Apparently the Supreme Court didn’t want to “second-guess” correctional officers (if they won’t, who will?), so apparently if the police make a mistake about you, you’re no longer protected from them looking at you naked. Hmm.

2. America’s Most Important Anti-War Politician Is a Senate Republican. Good feature on Rand Paul.

3. Arctic polar bear levels not declining as predicted. In fact, they are most likely increasing: “…stands at 1,013 and could be even higher, according to the results of an aerial survey… That’s 66 per cent higher than estimates by other researchers who forecasted the numbers would fall to as low as 610 because of warming temperatures that melt ice faster and ruin bears’ ability to hunt…” I don’t know science well enough to know if pro-warming scientists are right or wrong in their understanding of greenhouse gases and Earth’s climate, but I’m increasingly skeptical of their forecasts every time another one is proven wrong.

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Monday Links

1. “Salary ‘spiking’ drains public pension funds.” The LA Times details how public employees in California counties have incentives to use accounting tricks that let them receive more money in retirement than they did working. Meanwhile, pension funds are underfunded by hundreds of millions of dollars and regular ‘public good’ services are being threatened. Looks like a case of Backwards Government.

2. “Why an MRI costs $1,080 in America and $280 in France.” (And the HN discussion.) The Washington Post brings out some interesting facts about the complicated country comparisons of health care costs. My biggest question right now is why insurance companies don’t negotiate hospital prices down the way that foreign governments apparently do, since they would seem to have even more incentives. (I haven’t sought an answer yet; it’s just a question that this story raised for me but did not seem to answer.) The answer may be evidence that only government can fix a fundamental failure in this market – or it may be evidence that government is preventing the market from working.

3. “What would Breitbart do?” Dave at Classical Values calls out suspicious claims in the Sandra Fluke hullabaloo that seem to have gone unquestioned by the media. I’ve seen a couple claims on the Internet that there is some kind of medical condition involved that really does make the contraception cost as much as she claimed, but the focus on this whole story is all wrong.

4. “Rush Limbaugh Isn’t The Only Media Misogynist.” Kirsten Powers at the Daily Beast details the frequent liberal name-calling of conservative women that has never gotten as much attention as Limbaugh’s dumb outburst. A few of the examples are admittedly weak, but you could drop out the weakest one-third and still have a litany of liberal libel that somehow isn’t important enough to get plastered all over the media and elicit bravery calls from President Obama. (I feel like I’m stooping to partisan hackery on this topic, but there really does seem to be an “imbalance in the force” on this one.)

5. TSA outrage story of the day.

6. “Dark matter blob confounds experts.” A galaxy collision is disobeying current theories about gravity and dark matter. Apparently one possible explanation is that there are “different kinds of dark matter.” I’m sure it’s just my ignorant skeptical mindset at work, but that almost seems to me like grasping at straws to keep forcing an existing theory to work instead of admitting that the theory might be completely wrong. And they say religious folks are the ones who insist on believing in things that can’t be directly observed!

7. Random funny Internet picture of the day.